French transit workers have returned to work this past week amidst talks between the unions and the government. The general strikes were triggered by right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy's attempt at changing current French labour laws that allow workers in difficult occupations to retire and receive pensions after working 37.5 years as opposed to 40. The proposed reforms would affect over 500,000 public employees. In order to oppose Sarkozy's attempts at weakening organised labour in France, bus, train, and subway drivers went off work on November 13th.
This event exemplifies the usefulness of all workers within an industry walking off the job to show solidarity with one another. Contrast this with the lack of support individual groups of strikers are often shown here in Canada by their fellow workers on other jobsites. The IWW saying "an injury to one is an injury to all" more or less sums up the French workers' actions these past weeks.
The strike also provides yet another case of the French working-class' commitment to using direct action to improve their situation. The French state has a more robust system of public healthcare than most, for example, the result of the struggles of organised workers to gain and preserve such a system. The most dramatic incident of direct action in France in recent history is likely the general strike of 1968 which involved 6 million workers and, combined with the efforts of revolutionary students, very nearly toppled the De Gaulle government of the time.
The continued attempts by workers to struggle for the retention of the gains they have made and the expansion of those gains is an important tool in the struggle against capitalism. The lessons learned and gains made in every general strike, walkout, or slowdown are vital and are the basis of the continuing process of creating an economic system based upon common ownership and democratic planning.
1 December 2007
A Short Comment on the French Strikes
The following is a short commentary by a fellow wobbly from the Vancouver branch. The views expressed are no necessarily those of the union: